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Nepal Villagers get Water 1 Nov 1996

THE EARTH TIMES

NOVEMBER 1 – 15, 1996

WATER IN ONE OF THE EARTH’S MOST FRAGILE ECOSYSTEMS

Rural people find necessities in communal effort

By Ashali Varma

SHRI KRISHNA GANDAKI, Nepal – A simple water tap changed their lives.  For the women who live in one of the most fragile ecosystems on Earth, the Himalayan mountains, with their very steep slopes and poor soil, eking out an existence meant getting up at 2 AM to trek miles to get water for the day.

Today, 167 houses in 17 villages have access to a water tap nearby.  The water has not only solved the drinking water crisis but also helped to reduce health problems.  Now, the women have time to attend literacy programs, invest in income generating schemes and can decide on giving loans for local infrastructure development or enterprise.

According to Narisura Thapa, it all started when they heard a local radio program about how women were helping themselves by getting organized.  “We also learnt that by getting together we could save money, solve some of the environmental problems like water supply and sanitation.  And it would give us the strength to tackle problems like gambling and drinking that plagued our menfolk.”

Heera Thapa, the chairperson of the women’s group said that about this time, almost two years ago, Jay Singh Sah from UNDP came to them and told them how to go about it. “We interacted with the project staff and learnt about skill development and savings and even how to keep accounts,” she said.

Once they decided that water supply was their primary concern, UNDP gave the women’s organization a seed grant of 171,000 rupees ($3053). The women contributed free labor and, according to Narisura, who meticulously writes everything down in a ledger, this labor came to 264,000 rupees ($4714). One hundred and sixty seven families contributed three months of labor to put up the water supply system. “But this was not enough, each family had to contribute another 200 rupees,” she said.

The group has saved 35,200 rupees ($628). “Our funds come from two sources, our own savings and funds raised during festivals and marriages. Besides we fine members who come late for meetings and don’t do their share of work,” said Heera. “We have also hired a  specialist to look after our water supply system and we pay him Rupees 1800 ($32) a month.”

With more time on their hands the women have taken up various training programs including rabbit raising, literacy classes, vegetable farming, tailoring and midwifery.

On what they would like to achieve next, Heera said, “Right now we want to be committed to continue this organization. We are also looking for new ideas to pursue.”

At another village stop, a women’s meeting was under way; the men sat nearby. Women from several little hamlets that dotted the lush green mountainside had come to hand in their savings and some to request loans. This group started only a year ago and at first they had thought they would include the men. But then some women objected and said they would feel too shy to speak in front of their fathers-in-law.

Nirmala Thapa is the manager of this group. She is a school teacher and at 28 is unmarried, which is unusual for a woman from these parts. They were also helped by UNDP to put up a water supply system and Nirmala says it changed their lives. “We now have time to devote to weaving, farming and have become very environmentally conscious.” On World   Environment Day, in this remote mountain village, a three-hour hazardous drive from Pokhara, the villagers planted fruit trees.

“Manoj Basnyat from UNDP told us about this and we wanted to do this for our community,” she said. “We are also concerned about sanitation and we decided that every house should have a toilet. Now 65 homes have temporary toilets and we have requested funds from the Village Development Committee to help us build permanent ones,” Nirmala said.

One of the men got up to speak. His family has lived here for centuries and he said, “For 353 years we have had a problem of water supply. We tried to solve it 16 years ago but because we were not organized we could not do it. Today, because of cooperation, we have finally got water to our homes.”